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Posts published in “Life in Durham”

Festival celebrates Black culture, draws hundreds

The day was hot, sunny and humid, but that didn’t stop hundreds of people from attending the 52nd Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival in Durham last Saturday, May 21. The event, held at Rock Quarry Park this year, celebrates the art, history and culture of Africa and African-Americans. Vendors sold paintings and jewelry, among other wares. Children painted their faces. And there was lots of music and dancing. Here’s what the day was like, rendered in photos:

Durham Mayor Elaine O’Neal (wearing sunglasses) joins festival organizers, community elders, and members of the African American Dance Ensemble cut a ribbon to mark the reopening of Rock Quarry Park and the launch of the festival.

 

In the festival’s arts and crafts tent, children string beaded necklaces (after getting their faces painted, of course).
Balloons in red, green and yellow (the colors of Pan-Africanism) line the walkway leading to the park’s entrance.
Takenya Feaster and her son Zayah Feaster enjoy a mainstage performance. Here, in response to the performers, they shout, “Peace, love and respect — for everybody!”
Festival goers could choose from an array of clothing vendors, including African Beauty, Jewelry and Artifacts, owned by Dan and Betha Orange.

PHOTOS TAKEN BY MADDIE WRAY, THE 9TH STREET JOURNAL

The characters behind Durham’s tiny libraries

There’s a mini-fridge in a front yard on Shepherd Street. At first glance, it looks like the Whirlpool has lost its life to the vicious cycle of college move-in and move-out. In its heyday, it would have been home to half-eaten Taco Bell orders and 12-packs of Bud Light, but it is now filled with books new and old (that the Bud Light drinkers probably didn’t read). The mini-fridge in Morehead Hill is one of Durham’s many tiny libraries. 

On this day it contains a random assortment of what Durham is reading (or … not reading): A History of Japan to 1334, Fluffy Bunnies and The Maddie Diaries: A Memoir. Like all the tiny libraries, the books in the fridge are free for the taking so long as the borrower replaces the book they take with one of their own.

There’s no official count, but a map kept by Kat Barbosa, an enterprising tracker of the little library movement, indicates more than 150 in Durham. Some are part of a national nonprofit called Little Free Library that sells, standardizes, and tracks the outposts for literary freecycling. Others are unaffiliated — and even include the occasional mini-fridge. Together they provide Durhamites with all the James Patterson novels (there seems to be one in every box) they could (n)ever read.

Typically, the tiny libraries aren’t former beer chillers. Usually they are wooden boxes, about half the size of a mini-fridge, mounted on posts and planted where passersby might notice them. Some are utilitarian, resembling birdhouses. Others are more ornate — carved into the side of a tree or built out of a repurposed newspaper box.

In the age of e-this and upload-that, with the contents of infinite libraries available to readers at the click of a button, the thought of even heading to the local public library seems to be a dream of days gone by. Little libraries, with an even littler selection — often of worn-out books, and, sometimes, a tinge of mildew — seem the antithesis of the digital age. And yet, they are thriving.  

Some of the boxes, like this one in Greymoss, are part of Little Free Library, a national group. But others around Durham are unaffiliated. Photo by Maddie Wray, The 9th Street Journal.

Some contain more than books. Everything from old magazines to glittery high heels to pieces of garbage have made their way into Durham’s little libraries. A repurposed kitchen cabinet with a living roof at 1402 Vickers Ave. played host to three books and a crushed Celsius energy drink can. The can — although recyclable — was not quite in keeping with the spirit of the literature recycling project.

Trash is not the only threat that little libraries face. Some in other cities have fallen victim to zoning violations, others to the elements, and some have been the subject of skirmishes over which officially qualify as “Little Free Libraries.” But the fundamental betrayal of the “take a book, return a book” model is likely the most damaging. One of Durham’s little library owners took to Facebook to explain that “every time I fill my library with books, they’re all cleared out the next day.” 

Amanda 

Donations are the lifeblood of the little library movement, but they can also be a bit of a pain when people, “not fully understand[ing] the take a book, leave a book kind of thing,” drop “baskets or boxes of books” at the base of little boxes that couldn’t possibly accommodate them. That’s what Amanda Waldrop, 38, the steward of the brightly colored wooden library on North Willowhaven Drive, experienced. 

“There were a lot of people who were purging during the pandemic too, so I feel like I got a lot of the purged items and they [were] making it my problem now,” Waldrop says. 

The doula and mother of two wasn’t thrilled about adding another task to her to-do list, but the occasional cleanup doesn’t dampen Waldrop’s enthusiasm about her Little Free Library. A 2019 birthday present from her family, it was the perfect addition to her front yard. 

Amanda Waldrop says that when books pop up in her Little Free Library, “it’s a nice little reminder from the universe – oh, this is a book you wanted to read.” Photo by Maddie Wray – The 9th Street Journal

Killing time while her daughter is at dance class, she is dressed in blue jeans and a white short-sleeve T-shirt that shows off the elegant floral tattoos on each arm. Her eyes widen as she talks about her love of books. Her job, which she also loves, gives her the flexibility to spend time with her kids and to spend most of her day reading. 

The Little Free Library prods her curiosity too. “It’s exciting,” she says between sips of green juice, “to see books that I might have on my ‘to be read’ lists that maybe I forgot about” getting delivered to her library. When they “pop up it’s a nice little reminder from the universe – oh, this is a book you wanted to read.” 

But she emphasizes that her little library isn’t about her: It’s about her community. Her front yard is a playdate paradise, complete with a swingset, set back from a sidewalk-less road. At first she worried that people wouldn’t see her little library, but she’s found that neighbors stop by almost daily. She loves when they do — sometimes even taking a moment to chat with her about the books and the magic of reading.

Kat

Kat Barbosa, 33, is neither owner of a little library nor a big reader, but she is a key player in the ad hoc Durham community: She meticulously keeps the color-coded, ZIP code-sorted, master list (a Marauder’s Map) of Durham’s little libraries. But she is quick to point out that she is not affiliated with the official “LFL organization.” Her map, which has been posted and reposted in many-a-Facebook group, was not “made in any ‘official’ capacity,” she is, in her words “just a nerd.” 

But Barbosa, an administrative assistant at an organic grocery broker, isn’t just anything. Sure, she’s got the glasses to back-up her nerd assertion, but they are funky, paired with an ever-cool floppy pixie cut and a wide smile. 

Kat Barbosa keeps the most comprehensive list of all the little libraries in Durham. Photo by Maddie Wray – The 9th Street Journal

In a town of book lovers served by the official “LFL organization” as well as plenty of other passionate  but unaffiliated library owners, Barbosa realized “that there was not really a central way to find them all.” In Durham, she estimates that at least half of the little libraries were not on the LFL’s official map, so Barbosa sought to fill this gap. 

Barbosa hasn’t gotten around to getting her own little library. She is a relatively new home owner, and her energy has been focused outward, on getting a little library for her daughter’s school. What’s more, when asked if she’s a big reader, Barbosa — voice lowered as if she’s admitting a guilty pleasure — responds “you know…I’m actually not.” She bursts out laughing. 

“I do think that books are really important,” she says, “and I think access to books is really important.” 

This proclamation seems abstract until her daughter wanders into the kitchen where we are chatting. Barbosa says Eliza, 11 is, “a super avid reader” who  is “always acquiring more books.” When Barbosa notices “oh, the books are literally falling off [her] shelf,” it’s time for Eliza to pick a few that she doesn’t want anymore. The little libraries are also convenient places to donate — especially when you know where all of them are. 

Karen

The mini-fridge in the 800 block of Shepherd Street is not on Barbosa’s map — yet.

The librarian of the mini-fridge is longtime purveyor of books Karen Stinehelfer, 78. Before landing in Durham, Stinehelfer owned the Genealogists Bookshelf, a rare book store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side once heralded by mention in the New York Times. Now, instead of selling out-of-print manuscripts, she gives away teen romance novels. A downgrade? Stinehelfer doesn’t think so. It’s not about the press, the ZIP code, the price tag (or lack-there-of), it’s all about the love of books.

Karen Stinehelfer – Photo by Maddie Wray – The 9th Street Journal

Rocking gently on her pillow-laden patio couch, she gestures toward the converted dorm room appliance and boasts that it “stays watertight through snow, through rain, through everything.” 

The former bookstore owner has found joy, once again, as a curator of books. When she gave that mini-fridge new life — TROSA trash turned into literary treasure — each book was chosen with care. Her approach was simple. “Good books only.” “Good” was everything from a set of American Girl doll books to an anniversary edition of Kerouac’s On The Road.  “There wasn’t any garbage at all,” she says, chuckling.

And there never will be. 

Stinehelfer keeps bins of great reads on her porch, on deck to become the newest editions in the little library. No longer worried about turning a profit, she tends to her little library, curating its collection like the book shop owner that she is — or at least, was. 

She relishes the little moments of her little library, such as seeing someone get a book and walk away. “Once in a while somebody’ll pass my car and they’ll have a book in their hand,” they’ll walk down the street the rest of the way, “waving it.” She cracks a smile. 

Her quote about her bookstore, published in the Times in 1977, still rings true when you’re searching for a book in Durham’s tiny libraries. She told the paper: When people “can’t find anything it’s not because there’s nothing to find but because they don’t know where to look.”

I’d suggest starting on Shepherd Street. 

Photo at top: Karen Stinehelfer with her mini-fridge-turned-little library. Photo by Maddie Wray – The 9th Street Journal.

A peek inside Durham’s little libraries

I’ve long believed that browsing through someone’s bedside pile of books  — the stack that they are “going to get to” —  is more revealing than reading their emails. You find out who they are… and who they want to be. (It wasn’t too long ago that my bedside-pile was a blend of French existentialists and the entire That Boy series — That Boy, That Wedding, That Baby.) Lately I’ve concluded that Durham’s little libraries are our communal night stands.

So let’s get nosy. 

We’ll start in Morehead Hill on Vickers Avenue, where the creak of a rusty hinge and faint scent of mildew mingling with that sitting-in-the-stacks-during-finals book smell announces the opening of this box of stories. The catalog is eclectic to say the least. 

Adam Schiff, the congressman from California, is sharing a shelf with Catherine Hart, author of steamy not-so-historically-accurate romance novels. 

Schiff’s Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could and Hart’s Summer Storm both promise drama, but of a very different sort. The jacket of Midnight in Washington says, “If there is still an American democracy fifty years from now, historians will be very grateful for this highly personal and deeply informed guide to one of its greatest crises.” Summer Storm is also, um, highly personal, promising a “tumultuous joining” that “would be climaxed in a whirlwind of ecstasy.” 

There are only three other books in the Vickers library — two recent(ish) mysteries and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

If you are worried about your immortal soul after all that romantic rapture and death o’ democracy, I suggest you swing by the little library in the 1100 block of Woodburn Road, which has a robust spiritual collection. The books include Pleasing God, Peace with God and two copies of The Case for Christ. You’ll also find  Cornelia Nixon’s decidedly-not-religious Angels Go Naked: A Novel in Stories. 

If books about God aren’t your speed, you might want to stop by the little library outside McMannen United Methodist Church on Neal Road — sure, you’ll find Bible Stories for Special Times, and one for kids about how God Made Nature.  But mostly there are thrillers, romances, and good mom-book-club-reads like The Last Bookshop in London

The trashy-churned-out-thrillers from James Reich, James Patterson, and Clive Cussler are coupled with books by New York Times best selling authors written to be deep, and… to be New York Times best sellers. There’s Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, which, according to its front cover, is “a great summer read.” There’s The Small Backs of Children which, according to the Los Angeles Times is “a tour de force,” and according to an Amazon reviewer, is “just trying way too hard.” 

My survey found only one author whose books were seen in nearly every box: James Patterson. That’s not surprising, since Patterson has published more than 200 novels, but his presence, in tattered paperback and the occasional hardcover, was still impressive. Could you read his entire Alex Cross series by going from tiny library to tiny library? Perhaps.

My last stop is the biggest of the little libraries I’ve seen and as I try to peruse, I find myself struggling to unlatch the door. But the prize I find inside is well worth the struggle. It’s the screenplay for Shakespeare in Love. For the first time I am not just tempted to take a book, I do. I take it, and stash it in the book-strewn-backseat of my car.  

I know my obligation and have come prepared. I return to the not-so-little library with something to leave: The Easy College Air Fryer Cookbook: The Complete Guide with Simple, Affordable Air Fryer Recipes for Campus Life. 

Take a book. Leave a book. Add Shakespeare in Love to the pile that sits by my bed and taunts me.

Away from the headlines, local groups help Afghan refugees adjust to N.C. life

More than four million refugees have fled Ukraine since February, dominating headlines around the world. Yet closer to home, Afghans who fled during the U.S. withdrawal from the country eight months ago are still arriving, and Triangle resettlement agencies are still helping evacuees build new lives. 

“I know that it seems like ancient history to the news cycles, but, for us, it’s daily life,” said Adam Clark, director of World Relief Durham. 

While the initial wave of hundreds of arrivals has subsided, arrivals continue. Despite strong community support, local resettlement workers face obstacles at nearly every turn. Afghan refugees face unique legal challenges, as many are not guaranteed permanent legal status in the United States. Short-term housing, permanent housing and language-appropriate mental health counseling also remain critical needs. “Ukraine, in many ways, is making it easy to forget what just happened a few months ago. But, I think the community has not forgotten,” Clark said. 

When Kabul fell on Aug. 15, 2021, professionals across the refugee resettlement community braced for an unprecedented surge in cases. More than 70,000 Afghans would flee the country for the U.S. in the months that followed. “We knew this would be a situation that has never happened before in the United States in the resettlement of refugees,” said Omer Omer, North Carolina field office director for the United States Committee on Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). “Usually, it’s very structured, well organized. But this is completely out of plan.”

Resettlement organizations found themselves heavily unprepared and under-resourced for the influx of cases. The surge of refugees came on the heels of the Trump’s administration’s lowering of the refugee ceiling. President Barack Obama’s refugee ceiling for fiscal year 2017 was 110,000. President Donald Trump set the ceiling for fiscal year 2021 at 15,000, and last year, the United States accepted just 11,411 refugees. 

Then came the news in August and September that thousands of Afghan refugees were headed to the U.S. , including North Carolina. 

“The biggest challenge was the short timeframe. Most of the time, we know months ahead of time when a new population is going to come. In some cases, we had 24 to 48 hours, from notification to arrival of a new family to serve,” Clark said. 

Omer’s USCRI North Carolina field office first proposed it could take 100 refugees following Kabul’s fall. In the two months that followed, the office received over 260. 

Seven months after Afghans first began arriving in the Triangle, volunteer response remains strong, yet substantial challenges remain. 

When refugees first arrive, resettlement organizations look to be as welcoming as possible. “You want to ensure that they receive a culturally appropriate meal when they arrive,” Omer said.

The next focus becomes short-term housing, followed by permanent housing. Durham volunteers have helped with both, Clark said.

“The level of community support has been tremendous,” Clark said. “People offer their homes, their land, their cars.” 

Volunteers have furnished apartments for incoming families, buying furniture, decorations, appliances and more. “We want to make the house just as perfect as we can,” said Nancy Cook, who prepares homes for Church World Service.

Even so, long-term housing remains out of reach for many Afghan families.

USCRI still houses about 25% of its refugees in hotels because permanent housing has not been available. “Being in the midst of an affordable housing crisis in our region and suddenly having such a large number of people to welcome is a challenge,” Clark said. 

Afghan evacuees also face daunting legal challenges as they attempt to secure their future in the United States. The U.S. granted the vast majority of recent Afghan arrivals humanitarian parole status, which allows individuals “who may be inadmissible or otherwise ineligible for admission into the United States to be in the United States for a temporary period for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

Many of those Afghan parolees have a pathway to stay in the U.S. lawfully, through having American citizen family members or access to Special Immigrant Visas, which can grant permanent residence to evacuees who aided the U.S. abroad. More than 36,000 Afghans, however, lack these routes. Their only option for remaining in the U.S. legally is to file for asylum by proving that they meet the definition of a refugee—until then, legally, they are considered “evacuees.”

“I think many, many, many Afghan evacuees will meet the definition of a refugee,” said Shane Ellison, supervising attorney at Duke Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic. “But it’s a really long and difficult process to apply for asylum in the United States. If those asylum applications are not granted, then that 36,000 are at the mercy of Congress and the executive [branch].”

Mental health care is another vital concern for local agencies. Afghan evacuees struggle to look ahead when their journeys to the United States come so quickly after encountering extreme trauma and violence. 

“These refugee families are coming fresh with traumatic experiences,” said Clark.

Even in normal cases, where families spend years in the transition process, roughly 40% of refugees are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“Refugees may have been in a camp for years, or even decades, and it takes quite a long time to get to us,” Clark said, “In this case, it was very unique to have folks coming, being able to talk about fleeing from the Taliban just a couple of weeks ago.”

The trauma branches from a variety of evacuee experiences: “They left their loved ones in Afghanistan, the house that they struggled for, they left all of these things just in a matter of two weeks. They have lived in camps, sometimes for months. There is a lack of information about life in the United States, so the expectation and the reality are two totally different things,” said Ahmad, a local Afghan resettlement worker who asked that his surname not be disclosed for the sake of his family’s safety. 

After months of settling families, local volunteer Marian Abernathy still sees refugees struggling with their trauma. “Most of the volunteers do not have the background or skills to provide that kind of trauma counseling or care. I think that’s a big need, particularly for providers who are speaking Dari and Pashto,” said Abernathy, a co-chair of the social action committee at Durham’s Judea Reform Congregation. 

Establishing employment and routines can help refugees feel a part of American society, refugee resettlement workers say. With this, also, resettlement workers say the community has offered essential support: “Employment is not an issue, a long time ago, it was,” Omer said.

Looking ahead, Ahmad says he hopes local residents will remember what Afghan refugees have endured as they continue to adjust to life in North Carolina. 

“If you see an Afghan with a different outfit or a different mindset, or if you see an Afghan who cannot speak your language, I would say please be patient with them. And please help them to the extent you can, because they need time to become part of the community.”

For information on how to help Afghan refugees, contact:

Above: Sebghatullah Jalali and Shane Ellison of Duke Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic are assisting Afghan refugees with daunting legal challenges. Photo by Milena Ozernova — The 9th Street Journal 

 

Group seeks safer streets in Watts-Hillandale and Old West Durham

On a recent, chilly Saturday, roughly 40 Durham residents, all of them bundled against the cold in sweaters and hats, gathered at Oval Park for a group discussion on how to make Old West Durham and Watts-Hillandale streets safer for all means of transport. 

The discussion was organized by Bike Durham, a nonprofit whose mission is to “empower all people to walk, bike and ride transit more often.” Durham is growing fast, adding 4,436 residents for a total population of 283,506 residents in 2020, according to that year’s census. And with all that growth, citizens want to make sure streets are safe for all. Bike Durham has begun holding community meetings to generate input from residents on transportation safety to take to city hall.

Cycling is not Bike Durham’s sole priority, despite its name. The organization, which was named Advocacy Organization of the Year in March by the League of American Bicyclists, seeks to make local streets safer for cyclists, drivers and pedestrians.  

Several instances of pedestrians being hit by drivers have occurred in Durham since last summer. Statewide, more than 2,000 collisions involving pedestrians and motor vehicles take place each year, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.  

Bike Durham’s goals include promoting healthier, more active lifestyles by supporting bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly paths and streets. They also include giving drivers enough space to navigate without putting pedestrians and bikers in harm’s way. The organization carries out this mission through meetings with city officials, joint ventures with the city government and public events.

“We’re all on the same page that we’d like to improve conditions, not just for pedestrians, cyclists but also for visually and mobility impaired [residents],” Bike Durham advisor Nikola Milenkovic said after Saturday’s meeting.

The group, a mix of full-time employees and volunteers, began in Durham in 2012 with a goal of bringing proposals from residents to the city government. Bike Durham has worked with residents in the Burch Avenue neighborhood, and has since launched a project in the Old West Durham and Watts-Hillandale neighborhoods. 

The Oval Park gathering marked that project’s initial phase, with a group discussion in which residents voiced their concerns regarding streets, walkways and related issues. 

The chilly temperatures didn’t stop residents from showing up. Some families joined, with kids running and biking in the park while adults listened in on the conversation.

Ali Shoenfelt, an 18-year Durham resident and Bike Durham’s coordinator for the neighborhood project, said she was encouraged by the community engagement.

“It’s cold this morning, [it’s] Saturday,” she said.“I didn’t know how many people with kids would be here because I know there’s often soccer games or other obligations. But I thought the turnout was really good.” 

The meeting included short presentations from the Watts-Hillandale Neighborhood Association and Bike Durham on ways to make the neighborhoods’ streets safer. 

Neighborhood association representatives discussed potential transportation changes, such as repaving curb extensions and widening bike lanes. Shoenfelt and Milenkovic of Bike Durham described some of the most successful initiatives from Bike Durham’s Burch Avenue project last year, including repainting crosswalks and adding traffic armadillos, plastic dividers that separate bike lanes and driving lanes. After the presentations, residents spoke their minds. 

Arleigh Greenwald, who attended the meeting, moved to Northwest Durham from California with her young family last summer. 

Greenwald, a product marketing manager with Tern Bicycles, mentioned the need for expanding sidewalks and bike lanes, and for making sidewalks more spacious. By the end of the morning, she felt encouraged by the dialogue.

“It feels like there’s a consensus of people wanting to be able to safely bike and walk, but they’re confused as to how they can still do it and enjoy their neighborhood as drivers,” Greenwald said after the meeting.

Bike Durham representatives praised the discussion. 

“It was really nice to see the level of detail people provided in their input,” Milenkovic said. “We have a much greater sense of what the issues are. And we have some ideas on what to do moving forward, how to build off of these insights and continuing this engagement.”

The group plans a series of neighborhood “walk audits” starting this coming Saturday, April 30. “Walk audits” are focussed, on-site conversations that zero in on particular traffic concerns within a certain neighborhood. 

Bike Durham will then develop a ranking of the two neighborhoods’ most pressing transportation issues. Ultimately, the group plans to provide a report to the city. 

“The report we can provide [to the city] will be much more comprehensive,”  Milenkovic said. “We’re just not looking to solve problems on one street to have them move to an adjacent street, but rather address everything within our scope.”

Above: Watts-Hillandale resident Ali Shoenfelt. Photo by Kulsoom Rizavi — The 9th Street Journal

James Beard finalist Ricky Moore on fish fries, army kitchens and his culinary DNA

On a bright Wednesday morning, I headed toward Saltbox Seafood Joint. The restaurant was founded by Chef Ricky Moore, who was recently named a James Beard Award finalist for best chef in the Southeast. 

As I drove down Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard searching for the restaurant, Saltbox’s logo slowly came up on the horizon above a simple letter board sign stating “NC Seafood.” Then Saltbox presented itself, shaped like a shrimp boat and painted an unexpected pastel green color—modern and fresh, like the restaurant itself.

The restaurant wasn’t open for another hour, but Moore popped his head out and greeted me with a big smile, dressed in a hunter green puffer vest and a bucket hat. 

Knotty pine paneling covers the restaurant’s back walls, but we sat in front, where large picture windows take up most of the wall. Moore sat by a small strip of exposed brick, underneath a large poster of his cookbook. 

While we chatted, a young woman rode up in her Jeep and eagerly walked towards the locked door, and then went back to her car to wait. Then another eager pair of customers walked up to the restaurant and, seeing that it was still closed, sat down at the orange and sky blue picnic tables with their eyes on the door. 

Moore is famous for his trademark hush-honeys and for serving up fresh seasonal seafood. I asked him to tell me about how he came to love seafood.

Vanessa Real Williams: What is your first memory of seafood?

Ricky Moore: First memory is going to be family fish fries. It was a very celebratory thing. I mean, it was plentiful shrimp, oysters, flounder, all these other species. And that was part of the culture, the food culture, from a heritage standpoint.

I also like to share this little tidbit about a rite of passage for the younger members of the family: Whole, bone-in fish was a very adult thing. So in order to position yourself in the family as somebody who has become mature, you were offered a whole fish, i.e. a croaker or spot. It was whole, it wasn’t filleted, and you were there to navigate it. If you got choked, then that’s what it was. But obviously nobody was going to pass out or die or anything, and you learn how to navigate that.

And they would give you some sort of cushiony food product, i.e. white sandwich bread, to help push it down. Some of those fin bones right around the collar are very fine. You think you’re eating real good, and all of a sudden [choking sounds]. So now you were traumatized a bit. And depending upon the individual, it would end your career for eating fish with bones in. But some of us powered through it and pushed on.

A lot of people don’t eat fish because of the trauma. “Oh, man, I got choked. No way, I don’t want a bone around, not one.” 

Being in the profession that I’m in, as you move through the craft learning different styles of food, you get to a point where you refer back to your culinary DNA. Some of the best dishes you’ll probably ever eat are dishes that someone grew up eating. They had a reference point, a food memory, and then they brought it forward. For me, I brought those things back up, those memories of eating seafood. So that kind of helped to ignite Saltbox.

I could have done a ton of things, okay? But my original location, it just felt like a little roadside fish joint going towards the beach, where I’m from.

Williams: Did you eat a lot of seafood growing up?

Moore: No, we were traveling in the military. As an army brat, you go everywhere. And some places were not about seafood. I would say I grew up eating country cooking. 

So just like, when you go to France. How many metropolitans are in France? Only one, and that’s Paris. Everything else is rural, and it’s country. So a lot of the— a la terroir, a lot of the cuisine— is country food. Now, obviously, there’s chefs who grew up in those regions, and they really celebrate specific ingredients, and then they put it on a sort of haute cuisine level. But at the end of the day, their reference is what their grandmama cooked. 

So that’s what we eat, too. My mom learned eastern North Carolina country cooking. And it was comforting when you’re away from home.

Williams: When you first decided to go into the military and pursue cooking how did your family react? 

Moore: My father was in the military for 20 years. So, it just felt natural to do it.

I got a scholarship to go to East Carolina University, but I didn’t want to go to college. I wouldn’t have been successful, because of my maturity level. I needed some other activity that would be a bit more hands-on, so I joined the military. Frankly, you get a place to stay, you get clothes, you get allowances, you get a place to eat. I mean, that was the best thing going.

 I chose to be a cook in the military. I said, “You know what? I’m gonna try this.”

You had to cook per the recipe. You had to kind of riff on it, make some adjustments here and there. But still the base was there. That’s where I learned the discipline to follow a recipe. You weren’t supposed to do anything outside of that. Because that’s a regulation. It’s an order. The recipe was an order. And if you didn’t do it, you could get disciplinary action for it.

Part of the morale component in the military was, you got people away from home, in battle. What else do they have to motivate them besides a good, hot meal? It was not about slopping some stuff on a plate. Mashed potatoes with good brown gravy, a nice tender, moist meatloaf, green beans, a hot roll made from scratch—I want to be clear about something, we did not open up a bunch of cans. 

We were charged as the food service department to make sure that we were providing wholesome meals for soldiers. That was our mission. Every component of the unit has a mission, and our mission was to make sure they got three meals a day, served hot and wholesome, and they get as much as they want. Because a lot of people had nothing else to look forward to but that. That allowed me to think, “Wow, I’m effecting change in my fellow soldiers by doing my part here.”

Williams: How did you learn about your James Beard Award nomination?

Moore:  It comes out via Twitter. And, obviously, once that gets put out, then the local news and everybody gets it.

 It’s always good to be recognized by your peers. It’s been a wonderful thing to see the diversity that has been showcased. And I’ve been in the business 30 years, and this is just now happening. 

So, I had a lot of successes in the business. Sure, you get James Beard nominated, cool, that’s good. I just know that I need to always stay grounded. And my goal is to make sure there’s representation, make sure there’s mentorship, make sure there’s people who want to be in this business now. Because now it’s up to people like me who have seniority in this business to create a space in this industry where people feel comfortable. 

But also, it’s a viable career. There’s been a dialogue of it being awful, and not pleasant. When I came into this business, I was really fired up. I wanted to understand the craft of cooking. I’m working hard. I’m working a lot of hours. And any job that you work on requires a lot of hourly activity if you want to be good at it. And a lot of those hours are on your time, that’s the investment in yourself. 

I just don’t want the hospitality business to be looked upon as, “Oh, I don’t want to do that. They work too hard!” I know a lot of tech people who work too hard. I know architects who work too hard.  So, I just want to be a proponent —don’t mislabel the industry that I love. Even when it was bad, even when it was challenging, when there was nobody recognizing me, I enjoy what I do. And that’s a blessing.

Williams: I will admit, I grew up on an island but don’t eat seafood. What’s a good fish to try getting into seafood? 

Moore: I would say go straight to a white, mild, flaky fish, just sort of a neutral taste, not as prominent. You want a nice flounder, or grouper, or white fish.  Frankly, a majority of people are like that. 

Me? I’m the opposite. I like fish with flavor, which means fish that has more oil in it. “Fishy” is the incorrect term. “Fishy” fish is usually bad. That means the quality is bad. In something rich and oily, like mackerel or mullet, or blue fish, even the flesh is dark. But they’re wonderful to eat. 

Now salmon, everybody eats that no problem. But technically, it has the same characteristics in terms of the oil content. We’ve been culturally conditioned from a marketing standpoint to eat salmon. Now if you did the same thing with bluefish, people would be eating more bluefish. 

Williams: Is there anything I forgot to ask you?

Moore: North Carolina fisherfolk. Saltbox would not be if it weren’t for the North Carolina fisherfolk. So, I like to celebrate that. I like to let people know that, hey, we got to celebrate North Carolina seafood, we have to celebrate that heritage, we got to celebrate the idea that this is a resource that we have.

 And there’s more to eat than flounder, shrimp and oysters. Because typically when you go to a lot of seafood places, that’s what they have. And seafood in general is seasonal. Just like you don’t eat strawberries in the wintertime, same thing with fish. Fish move in schools and they move in seasons. You catch certain things at certain times.

Now people come in and they say, “Oh my God, you don’t have this? You don’t have this?”

No. If I’m living up to my brand promise that I serve North Carolina seafood, then I need to serve it seasonally.

Two Durham establishments are finalists for 2022 James Beard Awards: Ricky Moore for Best Chef, Southeast and Alley 26 for Outstanding Bar Program. Cheetie Kumar of the Raleigh restaurant Garland is also a finalist for Best Chef, Southeast. Winners will be announced June 13. 

Above: Chef Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood Joint. Photo by Simran Prakash — The 9th Street Journal

Local nonprofit promotes inclusion, one cup of coffee at a time

On a bright Sunday afternoon in April, a group ranging from teenagers to people in their 40s, all dressed in black T-shirts and baseball caps, crowded around a coffee stand outside of  Durham Athletic Park. The group served coffee and homemade chocolate chip cookies to people attending a talent show at the park while nearby, their teammates lounged in the sun, exchanged high-fives and danced along to the song “Wannabe” blasting from the loudspeaker.  All were clad in black T-shirts emblazoned with the words “B3 Coffee.” 

By the end of the event, the cash box for the B3 Coffee stand was brimming, and the team had served three large vats of fresh brewed coffee. 

The event was a typical one for B3 Coffee, a nonprofit that hires people with and without mental disabilities and has pop-up coffee events all over the Triangle area. 

B3 began as a partnership with a student organization at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has evolved into a mobile coffee business that strives to foster productive working relationships between people with and without mental disabilities.

“I felt that with other organizations, the relationships between people sometimes felt very contrived,” said Jacklyn Googins, the 24-year-old executive director of B3 Coffee. “There can be this kind of patronizing nature to it. I thought that coffee could be a way to create more of an organic space of visibility and belonging for folks that’s really mutually beneficial and something that people freely choose to be a part of and to continue to be a part of just because of the way it enriches their life.” 

The name “B3” represents the company’s values: being, belonging and becoming. 

“We honor diverse ways of being, we create a space where everyone belongs using the way coffee brings people together, and we strive to become better together through inviting diversity to enrich our lives, our workplaces and our communities,” Googins said.  

Googins, Greg Boheler and Hannah Steen, the founding members of B3 Coffee, met as graduate students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill through the organization Best Buddies, which focuses on inclusivity and friendship between people with and without mental disabilities. The trio formed B3 Coffee in January 2020, hoping to create an inclusive workspace for people with and without disabilities. 

Googins originally got the idea for B3 Coffee while working at a Starbucks as an undergraduate. She noticed the way that coffee can serve as a common denominator, creating interactions across people who might not otherwise meet. 

“I saw coffee as a conduit for social change and as a way to create connection and really dismantle the stigma that surrounds individual differences,” Googins said. “People are naturally uncomfortable with what they lack exposure to. And that’s especially true when it comes to mental disabilities. If you’ve never interacted with someone with a disability, you’re probably not going to know how to act when you encounter someone with a disability.” 

By hosting pop-ups around the Triangle area, B3 Coffee is working to increase this community exposure. People stumble across the shop on their way to other events, and while they are getting their coffee, they have the chance to learn what B3 Coffee is, interact with its team members and learn a bit more about their experiences.. 

The organization has a nonhierarchical business model that emphasizes equality between team members with and without mental disabilities. 

“You’ll never see anywhere in our branding that we are helping people with mental disabilities or running a charity, because for us, it’s not about charity,” Googins said. “It’s about empowerment and about just providing people a platform to thrive.” 

B3 Coffee has about 50 active team members, around 30 of which are neurodivergent, meaning that they have either intellectual or developmental disabilities, such as autism, Down syndrome, or cerebral palsy. 

Neurodivergent team members hold positions of power and influence within the company, such as on the management team and on the board of directors. 

“They are in positions and roles of leadership and influence because it’s just really important to us that disabled people are centered in the narrative that we’re portraying,” Googins said. 

B3 Coffee holds pop-ups in various locations around the Triangle area, such as at Brandweins Bagels in Chapel Hill and at the Durham Athletic Park. Laurel Siebrasse, 30, has been a B3 team member for two years. She lived in Durham for a little over a year before moving to Chapel Hill recently. The pop-ups provide her with the perfect reason to visit Durham, she said. 

“I like living in Chapel Hill, but I do miss Durham,” Siebrasse said. “Durham is still my second home, and I know a lot of more people there.  “

Googins said her work with B3 Coffee has deeply influenced her personal development. 

“It’s allowed me to embrace the most authentic version of myself,” Googins said. “When you come into B3, it is a very nonjudgmental space. We really just celebrate everyone for who they are and I just feel unconditionally accepted by all of our team members. I think we all find solidarity with each other.”

Alex Martel, 22, has been the social ambassador for B3 Coffee for almost two years, uploading weekly blogs to the group’s Instagram page. A Chapel Hill resident, he also works at the pop-ups, serving coffee and meeting new people. 

Another team member, Jared Pascarelli, 22, participates in community programming and pop ups. He first got involved with B3 Coffee because his mom, Denise, heard about it through friends and admired the culture.

“As parents, we’re always looking to find ways to improve the quality of life for our kids and there are very limited resources and limited opportunities,” Denise Pascarelli said. “B3 has helped in a lot of different ways. It has a social component, it has a working component—it fills a lot of needs.” 

B3 Coffee has expanded beyond its pop-ups. The organization now has an online community built in response to COVID-19, including weekly Zoom meetings to combat the feeling of isolation many members experienced during the pandemic. 

The group also recently launched Spring classes for its team members. One class focuses on  aspects of a daily routine, such as cooking, cleaning, riding the bus, navigating adult relationships and creating a standard morning and evening schedule. Another focuses on work readiness through resume-building, practicing workplace communication and self-advocacy.

This summer, B3 Coffee will also open a permanent kiosk in the lobby of the Chapel Hill Public Library, where the organization will offer paid internships to both people with mental disabilities and community allies.

In the future, B3 Coffee hopes to establish an “inclusive business coalition” of businesses in the area that recognize the value of inclusion and diversity in the workplace and are looking to hire B3 Coffee interns after they complete the internship program. 

“I’m excited just to have more established visibility in our community,” Googins said. “One thing we really appreciate is that the library attracts all different kinds of people, so it will really be a hub for community building for us. Those meaningful relationships are really the driver of how we can advance our social impact and just affirm the dignity and worth of people of all abilities.” 

Above: B3 Coffee team members serve drinks and snacks at a recent pop-up event at Durham Athletic Park. Photo by Kathleen Hobson — The 9th Street Journal

Fans cheer the Durham Bulls during home opener, despite the score

Second baseman Isaac Paredes has just struck out to end the game, as the Durham Bulls lose to the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. But fans don’t seem upset. They hang around, as the stadium lights dim and fireworks paint the sky. They smile. Heads lean on shoulders. Couples look at each other with shining eyes. Baseball season is back.

A home-opening loss — especially a 7-0 thumping — is nothing to celebrate, but new beginnings are. And that’s what 7,824 fans were doing Tuesday night at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, where they enjoyed a clear, pleasant night that featured lots of energy and entertainment, most of which occurred off the field between innings.

Fans dressed in sumo-wrestler costumes — complete with enormous bellies —  raced along the third-base line. A local celebrity couple led the crowd in song. There were, of course, the usual goofy antics from the team mascot, Wool E. Bull.

Just before the opening pitch, fans watched a squadron of jets fly over the stadium after the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in honor of military men and women. Multicolored confetti floated down into the stands. 

“The major leagues and everything is so expensive. Hockey, baseball, whatever, are so expensive,” said Bart White, a Raleigh resident who has attended Bulls games for decades.  “This — you get a good bang for your buck. They do a great job anytime entertaining between innings. It’s great for families and kids.” 

Before the game, two long security lines stretched from the intersection of Blackwell Street and Jackie Robinson Drive, as hundreds of fans waited to enter the ballpark. Bulls employees ushered fans into the lines as they took photos with Wool E. Bull or waited for the rest of their group to arrive. Food trucks and heavy traffic lined the streets. Pop and country music blared from the speakers. 

College student Ike Perry was among about 50 people in the Bulls team store rifling through baseball caps, Bulls hockey jerseys and other merchandise. Near the stuffed Wool E. Bulls at the back of the store, Perry looked at shirts with his brother as they waited for their father. 

Perry hadn’t been to a game in three years. But his father got their family season tickets this year, so the Wake Forest resident hopes to catch every game. Like White, he was also excited to see that night’s off-field entertainment. 

“They used to get fans to come out and play with sumo suits and fight,” he remembers. He and his brother planned to enjoy hot dogs and beer. They also intended to search for ice cream served in Mason jars — which he remembers as a Bulls specialty.

Inside the stadium, an array of aromas greeted fans. They could buy virtually every kind of carnival food — cotton candy, funnel cakes, wings, hot dogs, pretzels, IPAs. As White’s friend, Tom Holmes, purchased an IPA, he said he was feeling “pretty damn confident. Their team is called the Jumbo Shrimp. We can beat the Shrimp.”

The Jumbo Shrimp apparently thought otherwise. In the first inning, outfielder Peyton Burdick slammed a solo home run. The game unraveled for the Bulls in the second inning, when Bulls starter Adrian De Horta and reliever Zack Erwin combined to allow two walks, three singles and a double as the Shrimp rocketed to a 6-0 lead. All after two outs.

“I mean, for us, it was trying to get to the fifth inning. Just with our starters — we don’t really have any starters right now,” Bulls manager Brady Williams said after the game. 

At the same time, Jacksonville starter Max Meyer pitched five hitless innings. The Bulls would finish the game with only two hits. 

Williams said the team has little experience together, with players arriving from other teams as late as last Sunday, April 3. 

“There’s things we’re going to do as far as team get-togethers or just trying to get to know each other as quick as we can,” Williams said.  “Once it happens, the chemistry will get better.”

Even after the game got away from the Bulls, the crowd stayed. Beginning in the top of the fifth,  fans started clapping when every Jacksonville player came to bat. The Jumbo Shrimp would score only one run the rest of the game. Maybe the fans should have used that tactic earlier.  

The Bulls, off to a 2-5 start, have five more games in their series with the Jumbo Shrimp at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park before traveling to Norfolk, Va., for their second road series. Last year, with an 86-44 record, the Bulls won their third Triple-A championship. The Bulls are the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, and last season, Durham’s best players moved up to play for the American League club. 

This year, the Bulls will play 150 games, instead of the 130 they played last season.

“Hopefully, we can continue to do what we’ve done over the last couple of years, which has been a lot of fun,” Williams says. The manager says he expects his team to improve and contend again for a championship.

 “Those are our goals every single season,” he said.

Above: Photo of the Durham Bulls’ home opener by Bill Adair — The 9th Street Journal

Durham School of the Arts may move to northern Durham

Durham School of the Arts is grappling with the choice between holding onto history and beginning a new era. 

The arts magnet school,  a fixture in downtown Durham since 1995,  has been a source of pride in Durham for years. Now it may be relocating to a new campus in northern Durham. 

That has left parents and community members with lots of unanswered questions.

Jeannine Sato, a DSA parent and PTSA volunteer, has been active with the school for two years. She supports the move and funding a new campus for DSA but says that parents she has spoken with have mixed feelings about the relocation.

“Part of the charm of DSA is its history, its location in downtown, and its connection to a lot of the arts downtown,” she said. “But I do have concerns about how we could safely renovate it with students in session.

“It just seems logistically challenging, very expensive, and there will probably be lots of unforeseen challenges. Building a campus seems like the most logical solution.”

Others, such as Karalyn Colopy, a DSA parent and Trinity Park resident, favor keeping DSA right where it is. 

 “I love that there’s a school in downtown Durham,” she said. “It would be a big loss if we lost a school campus right in the heart of the city.”

The current sprawling campus of eight buildings stretches across three blocks of Durham, housing 1,655 students from grades 6 to 12. The school boasts rigorous academics in addition to a focus on visual and performing arts.    

The campus, previously home to Durham High School, includes some buildings built in 1922. Durham High was struggling in the 1990s, before DSA opened in 1995. DSA transformed the campus into a vibrant school attended by students from around the county, who gain entrance to the arts magnet school through a lottery system.  

The concept of a new campus for DSA has been under discussion for some time. The county provided design and discovery funds for the project in early 2021. In May of 2021, the school board hired a third party to assess the viability of the current DSA campus. The consultant concluded that the campus was not adequate to house a school of the arts.

The Board of Education decided in October to pursue funding for a new DSA campus in northern Durham County and submitted the proposal to the Board of County Commissioners. The commissioners will decide this month whether or not to include the new DSA building as part of an upcoming fall bond referendum.

If funding for the new campus is approved by the county commissioners, Durham residents will have the opportunity to vote on funding for DSA as part of the proposed bond referendum on November 8. 

If approved, the Board of Education anticipates that construction will begin in June 2023. They hope that the campus will be completed by May 2025. 

The proposed location for the new campus, a 58 acre-site on Duke Homestead Road, was purchased in 2010 from Duke University. Unlike the current campus, it is isolated from major thoroughfares and provides opportunity for future expansion, said Julius Monk, deputy superintendent of operational services for Durham Public Schools.

In a February 23 Board of Education meeting, Fredrick Davis, director of capital construction and planning for the Durham school system, highlighted the historical significance of the current campus, but also pointed to flaws with the building.“The current structure limits the class sizes, limits natural light and really does not lend itself to the modernizations that we need in order to attract the best and brightest,” he said.

Sato also cited several structural and maintenance issues with the campus, including electricity outages. “There are definitely some basement classrooms that feel like a dark dungeon,” she said.

 In a recent interview, Monk highlighted accessibility issues with the current campus, and the age of the building. He also raised concerns about the size of the campus , explaining that DSA was designed for about 1,200-1,400 students. 

 Parents and administrators are also concerned about the traffic generated by the school’s location on two major thoroughfares. Traffic backups often cause significant bottlenecks through the campus and into the city streets beyond, inconveniencing drivers and posing a danger to schoolchildren, some said. 

 Natalie Beyer, a Board of Education member, said new North Carolina Department of Transportation regulations would require the entire car line to remain on the DSA campus and not overflow out into the roadways. “That site is landlocked and there’s not a possibility for us to afford more land or close city streets,” she said. “Those roads are major arteries.”

Beyer stressed the importance of receiving input from the community throughout the relocation process. She says as soon as the board knows if the county has approved funding for the new school, the school board will revisit the issue and welcome public comment.

A big concern shared by parents and community members is what will happen to the current DSA buildings if the school moves. 

Allen Wilcox is a Trinity Park resident who lives one block away from the current DSA campus. He says DSA has been a source of pride for his neighborhood. 

“I just hope that the old buildings are used in a way that still benefits the community,” he said. 

Both Beyer and Monk said that the board is considering moving New Tech High School, which currently shares a campus with Hillside High School, to the current DSA campus. 

As Hillside expands, Monk says, “it’s becoming harder to run both of those programs on the same campus.” 

New Tech High School has a student population of only 285 students. Given that, Monk said the current DSA location could also potentially accommodate central office space or student testing facilities. 

Colopy wants reassurance that the older DSA buildings will be preserved if the school moves to a new location.

“We don’t have that much history here in Durham,” Colopy said. “This is our history and what makes us Durham.”

Above: Photos of Durham School of the Arts by Milena Ozernova — The 9th Street Journal 

As Durham buildings fall to the wrecking ball, a Facebook community gathers to watch, vent and question

​​Addy Cozart’s first post to “The Teardowns of Durham” Facebook group features a series of emojis: angry, sad, crying. 

“My block @ Hillsborough and Rutherford has been sold,” the Feb. 21 post says. “Final day to move out March 4th. The buyers are developers. I’m assuming more apartments will go up.…” 

The comments came rolling in, mostly sympathetic, some angry and indignant.

Cozart’s is just one of the emotional posts that litter the walls of The Teardowns of Durham, an open Facebook group that focuses on pictures and information relevant to Durham’s changing housing landscape.

This is a place of solidarity: with over 3,500 members and counting, the group includes posts about hundreds of buildings that have been torn down, housing justice activism and new, expensive housing in the area. Though the active member count is much smaller, the Facebook group is a public page for a reason: it’s a place for free information. And with about 50 posts per month in the group, and many more comments on each, there’s much to be informed about.

The Teardowns of Durham is partly just what it sounds like — a Facebook group about buildings that have been or are being torn down. But it has also become a forum where locals discuss how Durham is changing and shifting, where new developments are coming and which buildings they once recognized are coming down. 

The active discussion reflects Durham’s housing crisis: in the first three months of 2021, about 2,400 homes were sold in Raleigh and Durham. Of those, more than half were bought either by people from out of state or companies, according to a report from the Triangle Business Journal. According to WRAL, 20% of homes in Durham have been purchased by investors in the fourth quarter of 2021, up from 11% in second quarter 2020. 

Durham housing prices and property taxes also have increased, making it harder for newcomers to buy and for residents to stay. Meanwhile, though Durham has made efforts to create rent relief programs, the demand for housing remains high, and housing stocks are low.

The Facebook group began as a way to exchange information among a small group of Durham friends and colleagues. It has now ballooned to include thousands of members, from Duke students to Durhamites who have been here since childhood. 

There’s a catharsis that runs through each post about a demolished Durham building — a need to tell someone about the frustration at losing a property. A recent post by David Becker is typical of many.

“Big beautiful place on the corner of Gregson and Club was there yesterday when I drove by. This morning….gone,” Becker writes. Much of the frustration aired on the Facebook group reflects worries about losing Durham’s personality, including historic buildings that are dispersed throughout the city. Durham has 15 historic neighborhoods that are listed as National Register Historic Districts. In addition to the Facebook group, other activists and preservationist groups include Open Durham, Historic Preservation Society of Durham and Preservation Durham.

Frequent poster Chris Jay notes that a homeowner refurbished an old home to make it an “weekend getaway” out in Narrowsburg, New York.

“Imagine if all the old homes in Durham that are getting torn down were revitalized and brought back to life to their original classic design, including decor,” Jay says. “That’s what this woman did!”

Another commentator echoes Jay’s sentiment.

“I’m sad we are losing so much of Durham’s history,” the post says. “When someone’s lived here all their life, the changes seem so overwhelming… not always a good thing.”

Some posters on the Facebook group push back, arguing that romanticizing old houses will not make Durham more affordable, and will not stop gentrification.

The posts that consistently get substantial interactions, though? Questions. Many users in the Facebook group wonder what is happening to Durham’s warehouse district, around the corner from Fullsteam Brewery and The Accordion, where commercial buildings are being torn down on Geer Street. Another poster supplies a partial answer, responding that a Washington D.C. developer plans to create two large apartment complexes called GeerHouse.

One user laments the teardown of one home replaced by four modern tiny homes on Pritchard Place, near North Carolina Central University. Another user shares a tip: she heard that a century-old Pentecostal church in West Durham is being sold. Responses flood in. The overtone of the conversation: will the church be torn down? 

Concerned Durhamites started the Teardowns of Durham Facebook group in May 2019, when the pace of construction and demolition around Durham was ramping up in neighborhoods including Trinity Park, Braggtown, Watts-Hillandale, Campus Hills and more. 

In part, the group fills an information gap. Local journalism has been declining in most places in the country, including in Durham, and there are fewer local news sources to keep Durhamites informed about their changing city.  

That is a major reason why Ellen Dagenhart, who previously served as president of the Historic Preservation Society of Durham, joined the Facebook group in September 2019.

“The few remaining reporters just can’t be at every meeting where so much of the sausage is brought up and made,” she said. “There’s an awful lot of mischief happening that is under the radar now. Teardowns is filling a void, a need, for a place where people can share, learn, question, vent.”

Bonita Green was born and raised in Durham. She left Durham for South Florida in 1999, and when she returned in 2012

, she didn’t recognize the city she loved.  Now, she lives in the Merrick-Moore Community and works with the Merrick-Moore Community Development Organization. Fed up with the rapid development, she has used the Teardowns group to air her frustrations, she said in a recent interview.

“I saw all the development in my community and the acres of land that the city bought on the West side of Durham. So I had a fear of being washed out. I was fighting to protect the legacy of this community,” Green said.

For people like Green, the Facebook group has become more than a place to simply share news and vent. It has also become a site of political organization and mobilization. There are almost as many petitions in the group as pictures of bulldozed buildings.  

Urban planner and Durham resident Nate Baker said the petitions and political activism of the group tell a greater story: they reflect many Durhamites’ desire for control over the housing situation in their city. He believes Durham residents are not necessarily resistant to change, as long as they are included in the process.

“I think people have anxiety about the world changing around them and not really having much of a say in the matter,” Baker said. “There hasn’t been robust community engagement and planning processes to alleviate some people’s concerns over teardowns.”

He says the city could make changes, like building more affordable housing complexes, that would make Durham’s residents feel more empowered.

Dagenhart, the member who joined the Facebook group in 2019, said the Facebook group is also a place where residents can talk about their aspirations for what Durham could be. She recalled the joyous ceremony that took place in 2011, when ​​more than 2,000 citizens took vows to “Marry Durham,” promising to protect the city and its reputation and to honor its diversity.

“I think Durham is in need of some marriage counseling,” Dagenhart said.

Above: The South Bank building downtown is among many Durham buildings undergoing demolition to make way for new construction. Photo by Milena Ozernova — The 9th Street Journal